For those, like myself, who appreciate a good advertisement on the subway the Freelancer’s Union is a familiar name. The Union is a non-profit organization with the mission to “represent the needs of America’s independent workforce through advocacy, information and service” according to their website freelancersunion.org. The organization, renamed in 2003, began as an affiliation with another non profit called Working Today founded in 1995, and was formerly known as the Portable Benefit Network for independent workers (PBN). The Union reports to have over 100,000 members across the country- with no membership fees, union members are only expected to pay of the enroll in group insurance plans. Current New York representative for the Union is David Landis, a writer, editor and journalist in New York.
The Union, “A Federation of the Unaffiliated”, works on three main fronts; advocacy, to educate people on the needs of freelancers, to effect policy changes, and to protect the rights of independent workers; community service to help freelancers build networks”; and benefits such as insurance, where the Union can negotiate affordable prices for all, and create a “social safety net.”
The eye catching ads posted in the subway cars, and around the city, are produced by advertising company Sit, Stay, Good Dog! said media liason for the Union, Richard Edmonds. Although the Union has thanked them on their website, no web search for a company by that name yields results related to advertising. Edmonds says the firm is freelance, but that they “do not have a website.”
The majority of the posters I have seen around the city have been posters regarding their benefits offers and options. The Union emphasizes the need for good affordable insurance for independent workers.The Freelancers Union has its own group insurance offered through Freelancers Insurance Company (FIC), “a social-purpose company” created by the Union, according to their website. There are varying prices for the group insurance, with the highest monthly rate at $497 monthly, and $196 at the lowest.
Their offers for dental insurance however, are offered through another company called Guardian Insurance. The company offers various options; the MDG/HMO plan does not charge patients for “most preventative and diagnostic services”, and with the PPO plan members pay a reduced fee when they visit a network doctor, and can expect an annual maximum of $1000.
“When you have a large institution, you get better rates and it keeps down the premiums,” said Tracy Robin, Assitant Vice President of Student Health and Support at The New School University. “I assume you’d be in much better [financial] shape if you were a large group approaching an insurance company.”
The dental service provider for the Union, Guardian Insurance, has been featured in recent news coverage. In an article published yesterday, October 14 2009, in The Washington Times the insurance company’s credibility has been called into question. The publication reports that Guardian Insurance decided to discontinue its full coverage of muscular dystrophy patient Ian Pearl. According to the Washington Times a CEO of the company was heard referring to patients as “dogs” the company could “get rid of.” Guardian responded to The Washington Times, saying policies such as Pearl’s have “become too expensive for new small-business customers to buy.”
Insurance, one of the main focuses of the Union, is not only offered to the Union members. Current representative Landis, a member since September 2006, has his entire family on the health plan. Landis, who will be serving as representative until 2011, aims to work o the growth of the Union. “Before the Freelancers Union emerged, independent workers didn’t have a strong voice speaking on our behalf,” he said on the Freelancer’s Union webpage. “Now, we do. We must use this voice to educate the public and our elected leaders about the need for laws and benefit programs that recognize the growing freelance work force.”